First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 34

BÁÁHÁÁLÍ CHAPTER YOUNG WEAVERS Two women's vision unites generations as they revive their local weaving practice By Aaron Yazzie T HE NEW MEXICO MONSO ON R AIN h a s passed, leaving behind a rejuvenating scent. The storm’s journey westward reveals not only the sun but also a spectacle. Near the drainage pipe outside the Bááháálí Chapter House is a glistening chande- lier. Iridescent silk with little droplets, like rhinestones, are delicately captured on its strands. As the earth warms, the weaver comes out to repair any strands that were broken from the heavy breeze of rainfall. This is the first weaver. Bááháálí, formerly known as Bread Springs, is a small community located on the checkerboard region of the Navajo Nation and in the state of New Mexico. The landscape is charac- teristically Southwestern: many piñon, juniper, and pine trees, large black hills, stark yellow cliffs, dry river beds patterned with coyote footprints, sallow rabbitbrush, offensive potholes, and littered sites. Occasionally one can come across a jogger on the side of the road, a farmer selling steamed corn, stray dogs, or a handmade poster dangling on a road sign advertising a “Piccadilly” sale. However, the one location of interest in this community is the Bááháálí Chapter House, 1 uniquely known for their Summer Youth Weaving Employment Program (SYWP). The Bááháálí Summer Youth Weaving Employment Program began as an idea entertained by Elouise Washburn, a skilled weaver, and Gloria Skeet, chapter manager. It was an idea inspired by nostalgia. Their recollection brought up memories of the chapter house being packed to capacity by many elderly ladies weaving and socializing. However, as time progressed, what became a commonplace feature in the Bááháálí community seems to have grad- ually faded. Elouise and Gloria noticed the population of practicing weavers had diminished, due primarily to the passing of elders and lack of interest among the youth. Elouise and Gloria recognized this as an opportunity to revitalize the art of Navajo weaving. The Summer Youth Weaving Employment Program functions as a twofold model that offers employment and hands-on experience learning Navajo weaving taught by Elouise. With the help of the chapter officials, SYWP began in 2007. Although it is contingent upon the availability of funding from the Navajo Nation Council, over the years the chapter has employed many college and high school students from the Bááháálí community as well as from surrounding areas. Navajo weaving is a tedious process, from preparing the loom to weaving the last part of the rug. It demands patience and fundamental mathematical skills, requiring one always to be attentive. Many mistakes are prone to happen. Hours of weaving can cause dizziness due to the side-to-side movement of the warp. Sitting in front of a loom for hours can lead to an aching back and neck. The skin surrounding the fingernails will eventually chafe due to excessive friction between the fingers and the 1. Chapter houses were established throughout the Navajo Nation during the 1920s to encourage political sovereignty among the Diné. As a political subdivision of the Navajo Nation government, chapter houses assist communities across the Navajo Nation with entrepreneurship, infrastructure, education, and other needs. 32 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM